Memo to Donald Kennedy (Issues of concern to the Stanford gay community)

As you can probably guess, I am writing to you about the current debate over the scholarship for the gay male student. I am not as interested in this particular decision as I am in the larger issues it raises about University policy regarding gay people.

In your letter to me of August 27, 1980 you ended by saying, "I am confident that we can maintain the dialogue that has begun in order to serve the best interests of the University community." I am finally replying.

Let me start by reintroducing myself. During the academic year '79-'80, I was very involved with the Gay People's Union. I spearheaded an attempt to convince the University to change its non-discrimination policy to include sexual preference. After talking to several top administrators, we formed the opinion that the University needed to draft its own policy, as opposed to using the required statement taken verbatim from the IRS. This was the major suggestion we made to you in May of 1980. We also made the suggestion that the new policy include sexual preference, but the main thrust of our suggestion was the formation of a Stanford policy. The letter I mentioned above was your refussal of that suggestion. You may also remember me as a member of the Student Presidential Search Committee. I graduated from Stanford last Spring with a Masters in Computer Science. Now I am a lecturer and administrator in the Computer Science Department.

I'm not sure whether or not you are aware of it, but the University has a reputation among gay people for being highly unfair to gays and lesbians. University policy is characterized as "always say no to gay people." My experience with the University on these matters bears this out. Perhaps this is a misperception on my part. If so, I would appreciate being corrected.

Only a person like myself who has seen policy decisions made over several years can make an accusation like this. The University manages in each individual decision to present a policy which appears to be consistent and fair. Looked at over time, though, the policy is patently inconsistent. Let me enumerate some policy statements:

The glaring inconsistency that I see is between your recent reference to Jim Lyons 1976 statements as policy and your 1980 denial of policy on this issue. The general feeling in 1980 of many of your staff was, "we don't need to mention sexual orientation because the issue is never raised. We might as well list fat people, blondes, and preppies while we're at it. Once you open the door to one group, you open Pandora's Box." I believe the current scholarship issue points out that the issue is raised. How, then, can the University deal with that situation by saying "it is our policy not to discrimate on the basis of sexual orientation?" Either the University has such a policy, in which case you made the wrong choice in 1980, or the University has no such policy, in which case you are making the wrong choice now.

I feel that mentioning any 1976 statement in the current scholarship decision is inappropriate. Even President Lyman seems to disagree with you on this issue. I don't find it surprising that under his administration, such statements were made. I pointed out to you in 1980 several inconsistencies in University policy. You said that these were being corrected. I would assume that Lyons 1976 statement was one such unfortunate inconsistency that was soon to be corrected. It has no bearing on decisions made under your administration in 1983.

I still feel strongly that the University needs to draft its own non-discrimination policy. Already other parts of the University are taking it upon themselves to do what the University seems unwilling to do. The Law School, for example, has recently drafted its own non-discrimination policy. We can not go on like this. If the University is to make intelligent policy decisions in this area, and if it is to present a clear statement to the public of its decision-making process, it must have a Stanford-written non-discrimination policy for students.

Let me make a few brief remarks about the current scholarship decision. I believe that you are again taking the attitude that we must, if possible, refuse this individual request. You are ignoring the larger issues. Obviously this donor is trying his best to get the University to accept the offer. The University should, therefore, tell the donor what he would have to do to make the offer acceptable.

You list two strikes against the scholarship. One was Lyons policy, so we are down to one strike. The other strike was the restriction that it must be a gay person. In 1976 the Gay People's Union tried to set up a scholarship, and they agreed to the idea of a preference rather than a requirement. The scholarship should go to a gay person, if possible. If there are no qualifying gay people to give it to, then the scholarship would go to a non-gay person. I wouldn't be surprised if this would be acceptable to the current donor. This makes the gay scholarship the same as the current preference scholarships.

You imply that finding out whether or not one is gay would be impossible unless the University were to take inappropriate investigative steps. This is not so. The financial aids form could have a statement like this, "Many of the University's scholarship donors state a preference for a member of a group that has been discriminated against in society at large. If you wish to identify yourself as a member of one or more of these groups, you may do so by checking the appropriate box(es) below. This information will only be used in determining scholarship assignment, and will not be passed on to any other University office . . ." And then the form could include a list of ethnic minorities, a blank for gay/lesbian, and a blank for women.

Your suggestion that identifying oneself as gay is "a declaration of belief" is ludicrous. It points out to me that you understand the gay community very little. One doesn't choose a sexual preference the way one chooses a political party. One has a certain sexual preference. I am gay, I always have been, and I always will be. I could not choose to be otherwise. Because I am not ashamed of being gay, I am perfectly willing to identify myself publicly as a gay person. A gay-identified person is, by definition, one who publicly states that they are gay. This scholarship is intended for a gay-identified person. It does not stipulate that the scholarship must go to a person who has sex at least once a week, or who votes for gay candidates, or any other habit or belief that might be associated with the gay community. Anyone who would check a box on their financial aid form saying that they are gay is by definition a gay-identified person. A scholarship intended for a gay-identified person, therefore, could be given out on the basis of that financial aid form. It requires no declaration of faith on the part of the student, and it requires no undue investigation on the part of the University.

There is also a very good argument for a gay scholarship. This University has financial incentives for married people. Therefore, it has financial disincentives for gay people. As a student, one can live in married graduate student housing in Escondido Village with a non-Stanford student at a considerable savings over local rents. A close-coupled gay student would not have the same option. He/she would have to move off campus. As a resident of the new Peter Coutts development, I am required to pay an additional $50 per month for each extra unrelated adult I live with. Again, married couples get a break financially. I could name more examples, but I would hope that you realize that marriage is favored by the University.

I think that the idea that a gay person might need extra financial support in such an environment is a very good one. I agree completeley. I have been a poor gay student and now staff member at Stanford for many years. I can imagine that I myself will someday provide a scholarship for gay people, if the University makes the provision for it.

I think that what should be uppermost in your mind in the current decision-making process are the general issues. Does the University need a non-discrimination policy drafted for Stanford University? Should sexual preference be included in such a statement? Should the University make a provision for a gay scholarship? How would such a scholarship request have to be worded in order to be acceptable to the University? What changes, if any, should the University make to its financial aid application in order to obtain the information necessary to administer such a scholarship program?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these issues. I am more than willing to meet personally with either yourself or one of your aides. I have very strong opionions on this matter, I have been around many years, and I am still a vital part of the Stanford Community.

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last updated 01/01/2020